We're pleased to announce the winner of our Tucson scholarship, Mary Beth Ellis Hunter. She is a proud aunt, a creative nonfiction writer and college instructor. She studied English writing at Saint Mary's College of Notre Dame and obtained an MFA in nonfiction writing at Bennington College. Her first book, "Drink to the Lasses," was published in 2007, and she's currently at work on her second, a book a essays centering on following Ohio State's marching band for a year. She lives in her hometown, Cincinnati, with her husband, Josh The Pilot, and runs BlondeChampagne.com.
The letter that follows is the compelling preface to her scholarship submission: why she writes and what she hopes to gain in Tucson. We look forward to meeting her in person, along with all the rest of you who have and have yet to sign up.
I was tempted by a $24.99 coffee mug once which said, “I Write Because Punching People is Frowned Upon.” That’s not really why I have a stack of “MARY BETH ELLIS, FREELANCE WRITER” business cards I’m too ashamed to hand out to actual people. It’s one of the reasons, but not the encompassing one; if I wrote solely to avoid punching, I would have a trail of commas and adjectives from here to the International Space Station.
I write because I cannot add in my head, because my husband once said, “You are a bundle of nerves, but that’s what makes you brilliant,” because peas make me throw up, because my mother who once hauled my sister in a wagon up a 30-degree hill to outrun a tornado has not stood upright in nine years, because I would like to own a hedgehog someday, because I because I don’t know how to tell my nephews that I would lay down my own life for them and so I pet their heads instead, because country music makes me angry in ways I cannot yet express, because I will never ever properly fold a fitted sheet, because innocent people are shot in nightclubs, because I once saw a flame-colored mountain flower stubbornly sticking its head out of the nothingness of a forest fire’s aftermath, because often I suck in yoga class, because sometimes I don’t suck in yoga class, because I detest every single one of my wedding pictures, because my students’ writing terrifies me, and because my own writing terrifies me even more.
Sometimes I scrawl through morning pages when I can make myself get the notebook open, but my handwriting is little more than wavy lines, tangled at the bottom and nearly flat on the top.
Recently, one of my friends gave me a life-size refrigerator sticker of Han Solo frozen in carbonite. He thought it was hilarious. I shrieked and thanked him and we hugged and as soon as he left I mailed it to someone else, because I knew that every time I pulled the silver handle in search of some leftover meatloaf, I’d come face to face with the current state of my career. It’s dead but not dead, the Schrodinger's cat of writing states.
It’s not enough to have the time to write. I’ve tried that. I’ve tried time. People tumbling over cliffs don’t concern themselves with whether it’s too late for brunch; they’re wondering if they’ll survive the impact. I know I’ll survive the impact of publication. I cannot, however, bring myself to fling my body off of the edge. I need fellow writers, guides and yogis, other humans who Get It—I need this to hang at least one foot out in the clear air.
Some of my fellow Midwesterners have no desire to see the desert, thinking of it as a place of death and desolation. Ridiculous; the desert is where life is at its most predominant. Sand and rocks and tangled brush spread out for miles and miles and look, here’s this giant cactus. Here’s this tiny frantic hummingbird. Here’s life where the Earth seems most determined to impose a death sentence.
That, then, is what I would carry from a directed retreat: Life where others see death. Breath from suspended, frozen lungs.